MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- The Ford Fusion used for competition in NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series is expected to have a slightly different look for 2016, with changes to the front and sides of the car.
Officials with the Detroit-based automaker have not announced any changes, but at least one driver has acknowledged that the modifications are forthcoming.
During an open test Thursday at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Richard Petty Motorsports driver Aric Almirola noted that his team was "trying to really focus on what we need for our balance for this 2016 package, and it's not really a great gauge for us because this (car) is still the 2015 Ford Fusion.
"We actually have a new nose and some new sides coming for next year with a new 2016 Ford Fusion," he said. "(I'm) pretty excited about that. I've heard early reports of some good things. I'm excited about getting that on the race track next season."
Asked about possible changes for '16, Dave Pericak, Director of Ford Performance said last month, "Our current car has a strong relationship to the street car and if we were to make any changes going forward, it would certainly be in the spirit of the collaboration that has been ongoing between all the OEMs to make sure that the next generation car is an even closer tie to the street car."
It would be the second change to the front of the Fusion since NASCAR and the automakers -- Ford, Chevrolet and Toyota -- unveiled the new Generation 6 entries before the 2013 season.
A year after the '13 Fusion's debut, Ford requested and was granted a slight change to the inset area below the car's grille. Concerns about debris collecting on the front of the car, potentially creating overheating issues, led officials to alter the area so that it became more flush with the car's bumper.
That change did not have a major effect on the car’s aerodynamic numbers, according to officials.
Ford teams have won seven of this season’s 32 Sprint Cup points races, fewer than both Chevrolet (12) and Toyota (13). But one of its drivers, Joey Logano of Team Penske, leads the series in victories with six and has won the last three races in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
The new Ford pieces have been tested in the wind tunnel as required by the sanctioning body, and are making their way through the approval process.
To better maintain similar aerodynamic numbers among the various manufacturers, NASCAR controls the greenhouse area (from the base of the windshield to the rear of the decklid) for all models used in competition. Everything below the greenhouse is built to more closely resemble that particular manufacturer's production version of a particular model.
Manufacturers make design changes to their race cars when changes are being made to the production versions. Toyota officials made changes to the front of the Camry before the start of the '15 season so that it more closely resembled those made to the street version of the car.
There have been no changes for the Chevrolet SS since that model debuted in '13.
"Our SS will be our play here for the near future," Jim Campbell, U.S. vice president, performance vehicles and motorsports for Chevrolet, said in September during a press conference with representatives of the three OEMs. "If we make a change in the showroom that necessitates a change for the track, we'll certainly go through that process again with NASCAR and our counterparts here."
Ed Laukes, vice president of marketing, performance and guest experience for Toyota Motor Sales USA, said the three groups "agreed as we came out with the next (generation) vehicle that we would try to do the best that we could to simulate as well as we could the production vehicle.
"As we roll out next generation vehicles, I think every one of us will make modifications and they'll come out. But the competition teams within each one of the OEMs are working together to make sure that that box stays tight as far as the performance of those vehicles.
"So we'll see slight modifications as we change models, but nothing dramatic."